#Saheb’s James Bond-style surveillance


Narendra Modi, the incorruptible, poetry-writing, good-governing, economy-expanding, tough-on-traitors nationalist I was long familiar with. The insecure and desperate figure who emerges from the Amit Shah tapes, I had not anticipated.

My heart goes out to him.

I hope, despite the panel set up to investigate this, that nothing much comes of this story and he continues his campaign. It will be a shame if he faces trouble on this count, at least for me.

If this is the issue which the Congress is hoping it will take to the election, and it seems to be, given how many of its leaders are weighing in on it, the party’s supporters would be justified in feeling that the game is over. Such things do not decide how voters feel about parties and personalities in our country, and a little abuse of the state for unofficial work is not limited to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The other thing that I feel for him is for running a state with talent like child prodigy Amit Shah. When I was appointed editor of a Gujarati daily, Shah phoned me (hope there was no tapping). Now, I’ve met all sorts and I confess to disliking Amdavadis in general. But even I was taken aback by how crude and gruff Amitbhai was.

Both he and I refer to Modi as Saheb so I know who he’s talking about in these tapes.

One needs to listen to the taped conversations and know Gujarati to be able to properly appreciate what a half-assed operation Shah ran as deputy home minister.

The great ideas of competence and governance and the other pap that Modi’s chamchas (sycophants) spout will wither and blow away in the face of this performance from the Keystone Kops that is the Gujarat home department.

The air is full of high-end espionage, including code words (“Call me and only say: ‘The guests are inside’,” etc).

On the ground, alas, it is run with the usual competence associated with the word “government” in India. The police have little idea what the girl Shah wants tailed and kept tabs on is up to.

In one sequence the officer reports to Shah that he has one man at the gate, one at the door, one inside and one in the parking lot.

But is the girl inside? Er, that they don’t know. The girl escapes twice to shop without their notice, by rolling up her tinted windows. She is sharp enough to know they are tracking her through her mobile phone. She returns their missed calls and asks the owner of the public telephone to describe the man who made the call to her. Very little of what she is doing is ultimately known to the policemen keeping track of her round the clock.

Shah exhorts his spies to stay awake on the stake-out and large sections of his ministry are written off as incompetent: “ATS mathi manason no bharoso nahin rakhay (we can’t trust the fellows in the ATS).”

Shooed away by security guards, chasing after the wrong flight, unable to take photographs (“it’s too dark, sir”), Modi must have been tearing the remaining tufts of his hair out as the reports reached him as home minister.

Shah tells his spies that sitting in his office Modi knows more about the girl’s whereabouts and plans than they do. I think that was probably true.

Saheb gave Shah a ministry for a decade but no cabinet rank. This set of recordings shows us why with beautiful clarity. What sort of home minister allows his underhand work to be recorded by the officers he is trusting?

To those who think that Shah is an organizational genius who will deliver the world, it must be said that he is where he is for one reason alone. Not competence, but loyalty. He is the man Modi feels confident enough about to give his personal work.

To his friends, and I am not one of them, Shah has complained that Saheb led him to believe he would be chairman of the Gujarat Cricket Association. On the drive there to file the nomination, the story goes, Saheb turned to him in the car to say ‘Nahin yaar, hoonj banu to saru (I think it’s better if I do this).”

I have assumed this to be true and always held it against Modi but now I can see that it was the right thing to do.

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